Monday, May 20, 2013

Live Chicago: The Minimal Beat Interview

Billeh Ocean has made quite a name for himself around the Chicago scene. He's a radio personality, a blogger, a music manager, event planner, a Do312 tastemaker and overall a true Chicagoan. Since the early 2000's, Billeh has been hosting his own radio show, originally titled Hostage Radio,  but a few years back Billeh garnered the exposure that he deserved with his new radio show/blog The Minimal Beat. TMB is a tastemakers blog - built around showcasing new music and photography. Billeh, a resident of Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, sat down and answered some questions as apart of our LiveChicago Series.

TS: It was early 2000's when we had first met - you had your radio station at DePaul and at 
that time it was called Hostage Radio. Many years later, you now host the weekly radio 
show The Minimal Beat on WLUW and have also become a tastemaker for DO312. As 
a mainstay of the Chicago nightlife scene; how have you seen the city's arts community 
evolve for the better? 

TMB: The city has changed so much since the early 2000’s… I mean there was 
no Lollapalooza or Pitchfork… I really think those two fest really helped turn this city’s summer 
into what it currently is today… You can say what you want about Lollapalooza but they bring in 
so many people from all over the world this our city and not to mention these mega bands!

TS: Each month you throw and DJ an event called "ITALIANS DO IT BETTER vs DFA" - 
can you further elaborate on what exactly this monthly series is? 

TMB: It’s a party that we throw and play music from those two labels! Some artists you can expect to hear are Glass Candy, LCD Soundsystem, The Crystal Ark, YACHT, Chromatics, Mirage, Farah, Mike Simonetti  to name a few at The Burlington Bar in Logan Square on June 7. I mean c’mon who doesn’t wanna hear Hipster Dance Music : )

TS: The Minimal Beat is not only a great radio show, but it's also become one of my favorite 
blogs. As a fan of your show and your blog, my anticipation for your weekly mixtape has 
grown. Influencing people as often as you do make me wonder why you haven't started 
your own record label yet. Do you have any plans or interest in starting a label? If so, what 
local artists would you like to work with?

TMB: Well Tom, it’s interesting you bring that up… I have been thinking about this a lot lately and think that is is finally gonna happen! I just don’t want to do something and see it fail after a year or so if everything goes according to plan I would like to put out the first release before the end of the year… As far as local talent from Chicago there are a few that I would most certainly like to work with but I’m gonna keep them to myself for now so nobody steals them from me… 

TS: Your SXSW party was one of the best shows of the entire festival. Besides your 
involvement with The Ultra Violet Petting Zoo in 2011 - what other festivals have you 
helped coordinate and do have any that we should know about this summer? 

TMB: Yes the SXSW party down in Austin this past March was great and a ton of fun!!! However, the folks that deserve most of the credit are from Chicago Mixtape, Wine From The Moon and Audio Tree 
they are the ones that really made that party happen! As far as anything else that is confirmed 
nothing I can really talk about right now… 

TS: Speaking of Summer Festivals; Which summer festivals do you look forward to the most?

TMB: Chicago is the city of Festivals… So there really is not one particular one I am looking forward 
to most…So, here are a few that have great line-ups Pitchfork Fest, Wavefront FestNorth Coast Fest, Lollapalooza (meh), and the endless street fests that take over Chicago! 

TS: While living in Wicker Park, you've seen the neighborhood go through many changes. Can 
you give us a list of your favorite places that we may not know about? 

TMB: Reckless Records, Antique Taco, Big Star, Lucias, Gallery CafĂ©, La Pasadita, Rainbo, Charleston Bar, Decibel Audio, Rodan

TS: You managed Chicago rock band Jonny Rumble for years, worked with (Rock Proper), 
thrown many successful events, and continue to throw great events around the city. So your 
influence has remained apparent on the Chicago scene in many different ways; any plans 
on leaving Chicago or is this just the start for you? 

TMB: Well, I plan on staying put for the time being but if I ever moved away from Chicago it would be to a island in Greece or some costal town in southern California! 

Favorite Chicago neighborhood? Logan Square
Favorite venue or theater? Empty Bottle
Favorite Chicago team? Cubs/Bulls/Bears sorry I cant pick just one…
Favorite Chicago movie? High Fidelity
Favorite local shop or boutique? Reckless/Gramaphone/Permanent
Favorite local blog? Notes & Bolts is a cool one…
Favorite local coffee or tea shop? Atomic
Favorite local bar? The Burlington/Rainbo/Charleston
Favorite local restaurant? Really liking Antique Taco lately…

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chicago Songwriter Alliance // Hungry Brain // Mon 6.3

Chicago Songwriter Alliance has been created as a resource for us (songwriters) to get together, play music, have a drink and be friends. On June 3rd, we'll be moving the first Monday edition of the series to Hungry Brain. Meet the first five songwriters...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Live Chicago: Interview Series w/ Drew Fortune

Live Chicago: Drew Fortune Interview

Drew Fortune is a hard working journalist who got his start at Stop Smiling in Chicago. Fortune worked as Events Editor at PopMatters and is currently writing for SPIN, Interview, and A.V. Club. Despite relocating to LA in 2011, Fortune is one humble-brag who should start name dropping more often. 

TS: Thanks to the internet - music scenes in each city are becoming more apparent to the world more than ever before. With each scene, globally being recognized such as Brooklyn for their electronic movement years ago - which scene are you most interested in discovering more of?

DF: Living in LA, I've noticed that "scenes" are way more prominent then Chicago. There's a scene for everybody and every genre out here. Also, I've noticed it's a lot more supportive then the Chicago scene, which seemed somewhat cutthroat and divided. For me, I really enjoy the Burger Records/garage scene in LA. This includes King Tuff, King Khan, Black Lips, and lots of other bands who are always fun live, and are very unpretentious. That's the kind of scene I'm interested in. 

TS: The state of the music industry relies on journalists, bloggers, and tastemakers - do you feel that journalists have as much influence on an artists career as record labels or radio air play? You've recently gone fishing with Dean Ween - which brings me to ask, do you have any plans to continue with rare interviews opposed to the traditional tape recorder over coffee interview? If so, what artist, location, and activity would you love to conduct if given an opportunity?

DF: I think, sad to say, blogs are the true tastemakers now, more than labels, journalists, magazines, or any of the old guard of criticism or journalism. I say "sadly" because there's no money in blogging, and also, I believe that journalism should be left to the professionals. I don't link Tarantino in the same sentence as some guy in his basement with a camera, but the basement hack is still technically a filmmaker. Don't get me wrong: there are top quality blogs and bloggers. But I also feel there are way too many scenesters out there with a shitty blog who can turn mediocre product into the "flavor of the month." It's an exciting time, because there's infinitely more avenues for bands to break and be discovered these days. It just means you have to wade through a lot more shit to find the gems. I'm a firm believer in Chuck D: "Don't believe the hype." Too many music fans are sheep these days. 

TS: You've recently gone fishing with Dean Ween - which brings me to ask, do you have any plans to continue with rare interviews opposed to the traditional tape recorder over coffee interview? If so, what artist, location, and activity would you love to conduct if given an opportunity?

DF: Good question. I'm always looking for interesting, unique interview opportunities. However, most interviews are conducted via phone, due to time constraints and location. Mickey (Dean Ween) is a really great guy, a licensed Captain, and a true fishing maniac, so that was a no brainer to push for an on-the-water interview. Plus, I love fishing, so it made sense. I've gone tequilla drinking with an LA band called Tijuana Panthers.I also went crate digging at an indie record store with DJ Z-Trip, which was really cool. I'd love to eat mushrooms with Wayne Coyne and make an experimental short film. I'd also like to smoke a cigar with Paul Westerberg while he sings me a song. I can dream, can't I?  

TS: Which publications are you currently working with? Have you ever felt restricted to what you can or can not write at certain publications?

DF: Currently, I'm actively contributing to Spin, A.V. Club and Interview Magazine. I just published my first piece for horror websiteDread Central. I've written for publications which had a very strong editor hand, but I've never felt restricted or ham-stringed anywhere. Sensationalism is what generates hits these days, so I think editor's are always looking for writers to do crazy things. I might end up drinking blood with a Norwegian black metal band at some point. I've yet to take on an assignment that freaked me out.

TS: The 80's influence was quite apparent in the last five years of popular and indie music. What trends or era will come back after this influx of mere 90's imitation that seems to just be coming back?

DF: It's hard to say, but essentially everything is cyclical. The Drive soundtrack woke everyone up to the 80s dream synth thing that was happening, and there was a nice resurgence of 90s alternative a couple years back with Yuck and Pains of Being Pure at Heart doing the shoegaze/Dinosaur Jr. thing very well. Kurt Vile is carrying that torch as well. I think that EDM will keep spinning off and morphing into the new craze, because shows are where bands make money now, and kids want to dance and party at shows. I could see a big Stone Roses rave thing come back, with bands replacing the DJs and laptops. I'd like that. 

TS: What is one Chicago food or restaurant that you consistently miss while out in LA? 

DF: I totally miss Muskie's cheeseburgers, which remains my favorite burger joint of all time. 

TS: We've talked a lot of about The Replacements over the years and how they've influenced a lot of today's most recognizable bands. Considering many of these bands have garnered more mainstream success and financial benefits than the Replacements; which bands would you say wouldn't exist without their influence and currently probably owe some royalty checks to?

DF: I think The Replacements influence can be felt in any type of American, guitar-based rock that is honest, unpretentious and somewhat poetic. I'd say Wilco owes them a great debt. Pavement, Superchunk all took a page from the 'Mats, but then added their own flavor, which is a good thing. Replacements were obviously influenced by Big Star and The Box Tops, so it's all good. I don't think anyone can write like Paul though. 

TS: You and I have something in common - we've both been somewhat mentored by Chicago rock journalist Jim DeRogatis. Growing up with Jim's influence; his relationship with many aspiring writers seems to follow in the same path as late Cream magazine writer Lester Bangs. Would you say that Jim's influence on many writers would make him the Bangs of our generation?

DF: Absolutely. I've always thought of DeRo as the modern Lester Bangs. I met him for an interview at Wishbone Restaurant in Chicago years back, and we just shared a great meal and conversation. After that interview, if I ever had a question or problem, he would offer great advice. He didn't have to do any of that, because we had zero personal relationship before that initial interview. He's one of the reasons why I believe in the "leave it to the professional" mantra in regard to music criticism. He knows so much about rock history, whereas your average blogger, I feel, rarely looks back, and is only searching for the sexy new thing. He also has huge balls, in regards to criticism, which I greatly respect. He's also fair, which is the crux.

TS: You've interviewed Nick Cave, Gene Ween, Ryan Adams, Dan Deacon and many other artists that you've listened to as a fan before the interview. Has your perception of their music changed after meeting any of them for better or for worse? 

DF: Honestly, most musicians have ended up being so insanely nice that I have been left dumbfounded. Wayne Coyne, for instance, is amazing. Bernard Sumner of New Order was so damn cool, and for some reason I expected him to be jaded. Kim sweetheart and hilarious. Only once in my career have I ever had any problems with an artist. It's public record, and I'm not going to call him out, but he was the epitome of a rock cliche. Self-aggrandizing, utterly charmless and unengaged. Also very angry, for reasons that had nothing to do with me or my questioning. Those people are out there, but thankfully they are usually undone and exposed for the assholes they are.

TS: Do you regret accepting any interviews? If so, how would you have conducted it differently and what interviews changed your perception of the artists music for better or for worse?

DF: See above. Not naming names, but I certainly would have conducted that interview differently in hind-sight. I also would have been much more cautious about the editor who changed the piece and ran it with a screaming headline. That's the state of journalism now...getting click counts and sensationalizing. I've never been about that, and frankly don't know how to write that way. From the beginning, I've always operated under the guideline: "I simply ask the questions to which I'd want to know the answers." It's a publicist's responsibility to let a writer know if topics are off limits. 

TS: After reading your piece on Cursive's Tim Kasher, I was left wanting to hear more about you two recalling him babysitting you as a child. I'd love to hear more about that - did the two of you further discuss how beautifully serendipitous that was. 

DF: We did actually. It had probably been 23 years since I'd seen him in person. Tim only babysat for me a few times, but Matt Maginn, Cursive bassist and Omaha guy, I do remember him sitting for me very well. I recall massive couch forts were built, along with Nerf wars and basketball. Both of those guys are awesome, and I'm so glad to see them doing well. 

TS: As a friend and fan of your work - it's great to see your balance of professionalism without dismissing your personality. While many blogs today practice the art of exaggerated pretension, you seem to do the opposite by making a friendship with the artist. So, have the times actually changed and is it now acceptable for journalists and artists to become friends?

DF: I think that's a good point. I really like to get behind the music, or the art of whomever I'm interviewing. I'm not trying to be nosy, but that's just naturally how I am. I have kept in contact with numerous artists. Dean Ween and I have been fishing twice, the second time with my Dad in Key West, not on assignment or anything, but just because we all like fishing. This is essentially a very small industry (journalism/rock/film etc) so you do see a lot of the same people around. It's always nice to meet someone you interviewed via phone and have them remember me and be generally pleased to meet me. 

TS: In respect to our love for Rob Gordon in High Fidelity - what are your top five songs that make you think of Chicago? 

DF: "Via Chicago" -Wilco. "Left of the Dial"-The Replacements. "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You"-The Lemonheads. "Freedom of '76" -Ween. "Bellbottoms"-Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Some don't have literal Chicago connections, just remind me of what I was listening to around that era.

TS: What do you miss about Chicago?  

DF: Family and friends obviously. Seasons changing. Bike riding along Lake Michigan. Reckless Records. Being able to walk from bar to bar. There are no serious drinkers in LA. It's a weed city, which isn't my thing. 

TS: How did your time in Chicago impact your career and where is it at today?

DF: It's a great place to start, because you get the good shows, and there's such a rich literary history. I had an internship with Robert Elder when he was at the Chicago Sun-Times which was invaluable. Published my first piece for the defunct Stop Smiling magazine, which I still feel was one of the all-time great print magazines. It's also just a great place to be inspired, because Chicagoans love talking, and it's a total melting pot.

TS: What was your favorite Chicago Neighborhood?

DF: I loved Rogers Park, and lived there for about 4 years, a stones throw from the lake. My last apartment was in Wicker Park, which I probably loved equally. I never got into the Southside thing, but there's not really a Chicago hood I don't/didn't like.